Adventures in Search of Gander Spring

June 09, 2020  •  46 Comments

Last Wednesday, Mike and I launched our kayaks in a gentle breeze from Wakulla Beach, intent on our missions:

1. To find his lost gear and 2. To find Gander Spring.

MikeMike

My neighbor, Mike, had been pretty animated when he came over earlier in the morning asking to borrow a kayak... he'd "lost" his kayak the previous day! He had been making solo kayak trips into the coastal creeks and sloughs during the pandemic.  Mike became particularly intent on finding Gander Spring, rumored to be a beautiful clear spring deep in the coastal swamp/forest.  There are no trails to it, only a very obstructed shallow spring run that spills into the saltmarsh and bay not far from where we live. So, Mike had made a few exploratory trips part way up Gander Creek, turning back each time due to inaccessibility, time constraints, or conditions. He made it furthest up the run the day before, and thinking he must be close, tied off his kayak and struck out on foot. With a bit of searching, sure enough he came upon the spring. After making his way partially around it, he headed back, thinking he was retracing his steps, but actually heading in the wrong direction. The edges of the spring are ill-defined, and there are several "channels" going in different directions.  Mike's only compass (his phone) was in his boat, along with his lunch and water. Unfortunately, it was a hot humid overcast day.  So no sun to gauge direction. Once he realized he'd lost his way, all efforts to reorient to his original path, or even the spring, failed. Soon he was doing his best to keep heading in the same direction (which was hard, given the swampy conditions, dense vegetation, and deeper sloughs that had to be circumnavigated).  SEVEN HOURS LATER, parched and worried as darkness approached, he spotted a power line through the forest and came out on a dirt road.  Whew. I can only imagine his relief.  I know Mike to be level-headed, stoic, and in great physical shape, but spending the night in that swamp would rattle anyone. To his credit, he never panicked (which is KEY) and stuck with the best plan given his circumstances.  Other than the dehydration, the spiderwebs (complete with the spiders) encasing him and the many ticks needing to be picked off, he made it home that night in one piece. A blessing. We both learned some important lessons (me - the easy way) from Mike's misadventure, and he agreed to let me share it for other adventurers to consider and possibly learn from. 

Dense SwampDense Swamp

The two of us had been talking for a month or two about taking on Gander Creek together one day soon. So, the moment was ripe with motivation, and the conditions seemed ideal.  We paddled a short distance along the Gulf Coast, then turned north into Goose Bay. It was a good hour or more of paddling over oyster beds and winding through the marsh, past alligator roosts, and wading birds.  Eventually, the channel narrowed to a creek as we approached a stand of mostly dead cypress trees - victims of sea level rise. 

Shell Point

Great Blue Portrait

Basking Gator

Victims of Sea Level RiseVictims of Sea Level Rise

Cypress Skeletons, Victims of Sea Level Rise

Swamp GateSwamp Gate

Swamp Gate

From there we quickly entered an enchanted forest and the challenging obstacle course/maze. Between the drag-over shallows, the soft creek bottom, the multiple large logs requiring portage, the false-creek side channels, and the mosquitoes, it was slow going. But oh-so-beautiful.  I expected this so I had packed light, my only camera being my iphone.  In the lower creek, each cypress knee had its own little population of crabs. 

PullOversPullOvers Mouth of the RunMouth of the Run Knee CrabsKnee Crabs

Crabby Knees

Spiders galore, but also spider lilies.  And even a nice crop of my favorite-eating wild oyster mushrooms.  After another hour, we spotted Mike's yellow kayak off on a side channel. Mission One, accomplished.  We plowed ahead.

Spider Lillies AfloatSpider Lillies Afloat

Spider Lilies

Oysters at GanderOysters at Gander

Oyster Mushrooms

RecoveryRecovery

Lost Boat Found

It can be tough knowing which way to go.  There are often multiple obstructed channels in view, and the "easiest path through" isn't necessarily the right way. Once you realize that it may be the wrong way, you've committed considerable energy to get there and still aren't sure another better way exists.  Once, when we realized we'd gone wrong, we explored a bit on foot and ended up dragging our boats across a short stretch of swamp to get back on track.

Sabals & CypressSabals & Cypress Gander Run B&WGander Run B&W Obstacle CourseObstacle Course

And then, there it was: Gander Spring. An oasis in the swamp. I had remembered to bring my mask and snorkel, so I took a quick swim around the main spring bowl, keeping an eye out for alligators.  No gators in sight, but I saw plenty of beautiful garfish.

Entering GanderEntering Gander Gander SpringGander Spring
GarfishGarfish

Garfish. (This older photo is from a different spring. I had no underwater camera here.)
Gander PalmsGander Palms

We stopped for Mike's yellow boat on our way out.  I thought it might be quite a challenge to extract it from the swamp, but being empty, it didn't drag Mike down too much.  He towed it all the way back to our launch site without help. 

AtowAtow Knee FieldKnee Field

And that's the story. Your comments below are much appreciated.  And please share this link with anyone who might enjoy it.


Comments

Jim Stoutamire(non-registered)
Nice article and pictures. I've been to Gander Springs several times after stumbling on it while on a St. Marks NWR hunt. Don't know if I could do it again as it's been ages but if I recall correctly it can be reached 1) from about 1/2 mile in on the fence line road by walking SSW or 2) from an almost impossible to find trail off the Wakulla Beach road near a somewhat overgrown parking area that eventually goes past a sawdust pile deep in the swamp.
Liz(non-registered)
That's awesome I always want to try more interesting paddles.
Ryan horn(non-registered)
Tell mike I said hello we ventured to a spring 13 years ago when we worked together at the dealership.
Mack(non-registered)
What great adventures! Thanks for always sharing....Happy trails!!
lisa grinter(non-registered)
What a story! What beautiful pictures! And beautifully told! I wondered how you'dkknow when you found the spring, but it's so obvious....Thank you for these beautiful shots of our local area(Tallahassee).
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